With coronavirus cases and hospitalizations trending downward, Dr. Mark Escott, Austin-Travis County interim health authority, said Feb. 8 the community would immediately ease some restrictions and move down to Stage 4 of the public health department’s coronavirus risk-based guidelines.

Escott, who has been the face of the city and county’s pandemic response over the last year, told Austin City Council it was safe for the community to move into Stage 4 after sitting in Stage 5—the most urgent level of risk—since Dec. 23.

In Stage 4, it is recommended that businesses operate at 25%-50% of capacity and that everyone continue to avoid nonessential travel, wear masks and maintain social distancing. High-risk individuals—people over age 65 or with underlying health conditions—are advised to avoid nonessential shopping or dining and to avoid gatherings of more than two people. Everyone else is advised to avoid gatherings of more than 10.

Among the most crucial indicators of community risk is the seven-day moving average of coronavirus hospitalizations. Austin Public Health reported that average at 54.9 as of Feb. 7, the lowest it has been since Dec. 22—the day before Austin-Travis County entered Stage 5—when it was 54.4.

The seven-day moving average of new confirmed coronavirus cases as of Feb. 8 was 410.1 cases, the lowest it has been since Dec. 17, when it was 408.9.

“Particularly given the presence of a more contagious variant in our community, we would like individuals to continue to take protective actions,” Escott said in a statement. “We have been successful because of the choices the community has made to be safe and follow the data-driven risk guidelines.”